“Where” we pray

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Wk. XXX-C, 27 October 2019

Sirach 35:12-14. 16-18 ><}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8. 16-18 ><}}}*> Luke 18:9-14

Photo by the author. Baguio City Cathedral, January 2019.

We have reflected last Sunday that prayer is an expression of our faith.

Where there is faith and prayer, there is always love.

And when we have prayer, faith and love, we have a relationship and community of two or three and more persons together as one, rooted in God.

Today we hear another parable by Jesus only St. Luke has, that of the Pharisee and the tax collector to show us another dimension of faith expressed in prayer.

Photo by the author at the Wall of Jerusalem, May 2017.

Like last week, St. Luke tells us anew the Lord’s purpose in narrating this parable:

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.

Luke 18:9

Were you moved or affected in any way upon hearing our parable today?

Did you feel a silent but swift, sharp thud inside your heart while your mind tried to reason out that the parable is not meant for you?

Listen again and pause, let the Lord’s words sink deeper into your heart:

“Two people went to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous —- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

Luke 18:10-13

If prayer creates a relationship, Jesus is teaching us today the right attitude we must have to keep this communion we have in faith and love. Any relationship is bound to fail, or would not even exist at all despite the formalities of having ties and links like what we see or even have in our various social circles where roles are just acted out.

We call it “plastic” or fake. Untrue!

Praying at the Garden of Gethsemane, May 2019.

Prayer to be efficacious like any relationship must always be true.

Here Jesus directs our attention in the “where” when we pray – not just the location or locus of our prayer but our “place” in that relationship first with God who is our very foundation.

When all we see is our self in prayer like in any relationship, there is always a problem. It is clearly a one way street, a monologue.

Worst of all, it is an indication of the absence of God or even others because the pray-er is so preoccupied with his or her very self!

The Pharisee was clearly not in God even if he were in front of the temple. His very self was very far from God and all he had was his bloated ego. He may be a very pious person but not really good at all for he has no space for God and for others. He is a very closed man without any room for others.

The tax collector, on the other hand, may be physically far outside the temple but was the one actually nearest to God with his self-acceptance and ownership of his sinfulness, of his need for God. He was closest to God because he was more open with God and with others by admitting his own sinfulness.

Again we find the key to tis Sunday’s parable towards the end:

(Jesus said) ‘I tell you, the latter (tax collector) went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'”

Luke 18:14
Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Pena, Germany, 2016.

Prayer is more than entering a church or a prayer room, or finding our most suitable spot or space to pray.

Prayer is being one with God, of being suffused in God.

“Where” are we when we pray?

First, we become one with God, one in him in prayer when we first admit our sinfulness, when we confess our sins to him, and own them without any “ifs” and “buts”.

God always comes to those who truly open themselves to him by emptying themselves of their sins and inadequacies.

The tax collector was justified in his prayer more than the Pharisee because in confessing his sins, he admitted his need for God. He knew very well his place, so unlike the Pharisee who felt God owes him so much!

When Pope Francis granted his first media interview (to their Jesuit Magazine!), the first question asked of him was, “who is Jose Mario Bergoglio?”

The Holy Father quickly answered, “I am a sinner.”

No wonder when he was elected Pope on March 13, 2013 at the Vatican, he first asked for prayers from the huge crowd gathered before he bestowed his apostolic blessing to them. It clearly showed that despite his holding the highest post in the Church, he considers himself a sinner, so weak needing prayers from the people.

I always tell couples during weddings that when they have a quarrel, the first one to speak and make the move for reconciliation is the one with most love, the one who is most willing to bow to start anew.

Most often in life, friendships and relationships are kept when we are willing to take the lower stance, not necessarily admitting fault or guilt in any misunderstanding because being lowly indicates the person’s need for the other person and of one’s love to work on that relationship despite its fragility.

Ordination of deacons, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Second, we are in God and with God in prayer when we have that attitude and inner disposition of being poor and lowly. Being lowly or poor means having the conviction to leave everything behind and go down with God into the lowest point because one is so confident of the efficacy of prayer like what Ben Sirach tells us in the first reading.

Most of all, like Mary the Mother of Jesus during the Annunciation of the Christ’s birth.

The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heaven. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal.

And thirdly, we are in God in prayer when there is an offering daily of one’s self to God.

It is not enough to be lowly and sorry for our sins in prayer. It has to be sustained because prayer is also a discipline like any sport. In the second reading, St. Paul calls us to persevere and endure until the end for Jesus Christ.

We need to be passionate with our prayer life, willing to go to all extent to offer everything for the Lord, to fulfill his will “who shall award us with the crown of righteousness in heaven.”

We are all sinners forgiven and beloved by God.

May we find ourselves in God and with God always both in our sinfulness and lowliness. Amen.

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